The New York Times recently reported that declassified intelligence from U.S. intelligence shows that Russia is buying millions of artillery shells and rockets from North Korea. U.S. government officials said it showed that sanctions and export controls imposed by the United States and Europe were hurting Moscow’s ability to obtain supplies for its military, with global sanctions severely limiting its supply chain. A U.S. official also said that in addition to short-range rockets and artillery shells, Russia is expected to try to buy more North Korean weapons and equipments in the future.
Although so far, neither North Korea nor Russia has responded to this, but in fact, how powerful is North Korea’s artillery? Is it really possible for Russia, as a military power, to purchase it?
In recent times, the Ukrainian army has launched a counteroffensive in several areas, including Kherson. At the same time, it has used the high-mobility rocket launcher system “HIMARS” provided by the United States to intensify the attack on the Russian ammunition depots. Russia was forced to withdraw and move its ammunition storage points, thereby reducing the effectiveness of its artillery units. Under the action of various factors, the firepower ratio of the two sides on the Russian-Ukrainian front has undergone changes that are not conducive to the Russian army. Taking the Donbas frontline as an example, 3 to 4 months ago, the local artillery of the Russian army had an overwhelming advantage of 10:1 compared with the Ukrainian army, but now the gap between the two sides has narrowed to about 3:1. If you consider that the weapons of the Ukrainian army currently rely mainly on Western military assistance, and the overall quality of artillery exceeds that of the Russian army, the firepower gap between the two sides will only be smaller. Some military observers pointed out that the weakening of Russian artillery advantages is one of the important reasons for the slow progress of the Russian army in recent days.
The source of Russian artillery, in addition to inventory and military factory production, is actually a large part of the old artillery and ammunition sealed in the Soviet Union, but the Soviet Union’s “Cold War legacy” is not inexhaustible, and the peak ahead is tens of thousands of dollars a day. The amount of ammunition required for the bombardment is staggering. It is reported that the inventory of Russian artillery is about to bottom out, the number of shelling in eastern and southern Ukraine has dropped significantly, and the production of arms factories will take time.
There are also signs that the effectiveness of some Russian shells has declined due to storage problems or poorly maintained ammunition stocks. For example, the most effective way to hit enemy forces is to have shells explode in the air before hitting the ground, but this summer, crater patterns created by Russian artillery units showed that many of their shells exploded on the ground, reducing the destruction of Ukrainian army trenches.
Therefore, from the Russian side, there is indeed a need to strengthen the artillery units. After all, the biggest victory before, winning Luhansk Oblast, the main credit goes to artillery.
North Korea follows the “artillery doctrine” with sufficient ammunition
Although the declassified intelligence from the United States did not mention the specific weapons purchased by the Russian military, an American official said that Russia was looking for short-range rockets and 152mm and 155mm shells.
Although the North Korean weapons that frequently appear in the international news are mainly ballistic missiles tested, but in the context of focusing on the development of various ballistic missiles, North Korea’s emphasis on the development of artillery weapons and equipment has not decreased.
Up to now, the main equipment of the new generation of artillery of the Korean People’s Army has initially formed a powerful strike system of the “trinity” of large-caliber cannons, long-range rocket launchers and short-range tactical missiles.
The 152mm artillery shell disclosed by US officials corresponds to the North Korean 152mm self-propelled howitzer. In the 1970s, this kind of artillery was put into service in the North Korean Army in batches and was named 1974 by the West, and it is still one of the main artillery pieces.
For Russia, one of the advantages of this artillery is that it is very easy to get started, because the artillery has a strong “Soviet DNA”.
The gun uses the Soviet D-20 152mm/L26 towed howitzer produced under license from North Korea as a weapon. The chassis may be modified from the Soviet ATS-59G artillery tractor, which is regarded by the West as a simplification of the Soviet 2S3 Akatsiya 152mm self-propelled artillery system version.
Another advantage of the gun is that it is reliable and durable, and can fire fragmentation shells, high-explosive fragmentation shells, high-explosive shells, concrete blasting shells and flares, and even laser-guided and nuclear shells.
North Korean M1974 152mm self-propelled artillery
Of course, the shortcomings of North Korea’s M1974-152mm self-propelled howitzer are also obvious, and the range of the gun does not exceed 20 kilometers. In terms of accuracy and burst frequency, the artillery technology is outdated, and it only adopts semi-open protection. There is no turret or mantlet. The armor can only defend against small weapons and shell fragments, and the protection is insufficient.
Of course, North Korea’s artillery technology is also constantly improving. At the military parade celebrating the 70th anniversary of the founding of North Korea on September 9, 2018, a new 152mm self-propelled artillery debuted for the first time. It has a larger turret and a new type of high diameter. This self-propelled gun is known in the West as the M2018. However, due to the recent debut, it is estimated that there may not be enough production for a large number of exports to Russia.
When it comes to the artillery of the Korean People’s Army, the first thing people think of is the “Gushan Cannon” that is frequently photographed. The 170mm-caliber tracked self-propelled cannon got its name after it was first discovered near the North Korean city of Goksan. As the first large-caliber cannon independently developed by North Korea, the “Gushan Cannon” was not only equipped with the Korean People’s Army artillery in batches, but also exported to Iran and participated in the Iran-Iraq War. Therefore, the gun is also regarded as one of the pride and milestones of the North Korean military industry.
Of course, the overall performance of the “Gushan Cannon” has long lagged behind the development of the times. The “Gusan” cannon does not have an advanced sighting system and an automatic loader, and its shooting accuracy and rate of fire are not as good as that of the South Korean K-9 self-propelled howitzer. It can only fire 1 to 2 shells every 5 minutes, and cannot achieve rapid fire, especially the gun still adopts an open layout, which has poor protection ability and weak battlefield survivability. Therefore, the analysis believes that Russia will not import the “Gushan Cannon”.
North Korea’s “Goksan Cannon”
On April 25, 2017, at the time of the demonstration to commemorate the 85th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Army, North Korea held a joint military strike demonstration. KCNA reported at the time that a total of “300 large-caliber self-propelled artillery guns lined up for several kilometers along the coast fired simultaneously.”
According to the pictures released by the Korean Central News Agency, it can be seen that the front row along the coast is the unique 170mm caliber “Gushan Cannon”, and the rear row is a 152mm caliber self-propelled howitzer with a shorter barrel. This is also a rare large-scale same frame for the two artillery pieces.
Since the 1970s, the North Korean military industry has begun to develop 240mm large-caliber rocket launchers. Its first model, the M1985, uses 12 tubular director with a maximum range of 43 kilometers. After that, the maximum range of the improved M1991 240mm rocket launcher was increased to 60 kilometers. However, in 2012, North Korea publicly demonstrated the latest generation of M2012 240mm rocket launchers. The maximum range has soared to 100 kilometers. It is the first rocket launcher equipped in batches with a range of 100 kilometers.
In addition, North Korea has an important advantage in providing artillery, they have enough ammunition.
Because North Korea has inherited the Soviet Union’s artillery doctrine, and has surpassed it. No country has promoted the status of artillery in its national defense like North Korea. The Korean People’s Army has a total of 15 corps, including one artillery corps. In the case of weak air power, North Korea vigorously develops artillery to form a deterrent to Seoul, the capital of South Korea, on the border, making South Korea have to be worry. The huge ammunition reserves that North Korea possesses are exactly what Russia desperately needs.
North Korea-Russia military cooperation “win-win” situation
There is a need of militarily, and politically and economically, North Korea has no obstacle to selling artillery to Russia. As for the issue of saying that the Russian army can’t afford to buy weapons, but before that, there has been public news that Russia has purchased drones from Iran.
Politically, since February 21, President Putin signed a decree recognizing the independence of the “Donetsk Republic” and “Luhansk Republic”. Syria and North Korea also announced their recognition of the “independence” of Donetsk and Luhansk in June and July respectively. Ukraine has cut diplomatic ties with Syria and North Korea. North Korea has completely chosen sides politically.
August 15 this year marks the 77th anniversary of Japan’s unconditional surrender and the 77th anniversary of the independence and liberation of the Korean nation. On the same day, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin exchanged congratulatory messages.
Putin said in his congratulatory message that the glorious tradition of friendly cooperation created in the severe era has now become a solid foundation for the development of good-neighborly relations between Russia and the DPRK. In his reply, Kim Jong-un said that the DPRK-Russia friendship formed during the Anti-Japanese War has been continuously consolidated and developed, and the cooperation between the two countries is now being elevated to a new and higher level on the common front. The two sides agreed that the two countries would “work together to expand a comprehensive and constructive bilateral relationship”.
The Tumen River Bridge between Russia and North Korea
Economically, North Korea is largely cut off from international trade due to U.S. and Western sanctions, and there is little to lose from doing deals with Russia , and it doesn’t care much about Western sanctions on exports to Russia.
At the same time, there are observations that North Korea and Russia border, and transportation is more convenient. In terms of payment, due to the lack of foreign exchange between the two sides, some barter, “energy for weapons” may be considered.
The international media noticed that Georgy Zinoviev, director of the First Asia Department of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in an interview with the Russian Satellite News Agency on the 7th that if the North Korean side expresses a demand, Russia is willing to resume the suspension due to the new epidemic, supply of oil and petroleum products to North Korea. He pointed out that North Korea will stop importing Russian energy and other goods in 2020 to prevent the import of the new virus. “As long as North Korea is ready to resume logistics, we will restore the supply of oil and petroleum products in a corresponding amount.”
As for where Russia’s imported North Korean artillery will be used, the analysis believes that it is mainly used in the Donbass area on the eastern line, because the Russian army is close to the railway supply point here, and the ammunition transportation is convenient. The Russian army is currently “washing the ground” style of play, which can largely avoid the shortcomings of North Korea’s artillery, such as the lack of accuracy, and amplify its powerful advantages.
In the Kherson area on the southern line, due to the relatively difficult supply, the Russian army should still increase the proportion of its more advanced artillery.